Variety in unity

In his book "The practice and science of drawing", Harold Speed states that "in good work unity dominates over variety." According to him, variety in unity (or varying well) is what contributes for a good style in art. Therefore, it is of great importance to think in terms of the composition and the unity it has, because variety will be subordinated to it.

This principle is valid not only in drawing. In web design, we rarely talk about unity, despite the fact that the browser also draws content, but uses the screen as medium instead of paper. We are often too busy figuring out the details around what kind of variety would be sensible on our latest website. Everything is about variety—fonts, colors, shapes, shadows, contrast, element positions, proportions and ordering, frameworks, other scripts and tools, UI components, methodologies. Moreover, this variety has only increased in time to become less manageable. Spending our energy on picking from it hinders our ability to perceive the unity of the whole. This way we can't see when an element doesn't fit into the overall philosophy or the desired characteristics of the website. Unity can be achieved only by adhering to them with no exceptions. Photoshop mockups can help us identify problem areas in our visual design.

We can use UI icon sets, but if other elements on the page are very different, we won't achieve unity, despite being somewhat consistent. We can use font packs of the same font with varying weights, but if they don't fit well with the rest of the site, unity won't be achieved. Consistency, even if we can buy it, does not guarantee unity. Thinking that a couple of design elements can make all the difference on our site is wrong. Unity can't be enforced so easily, which is why we need to discuss it much more often than we do it today. We need to have a collective understanding of it, because a website is a collective product and anything that subtracts from this unity harms the work of all team members, whether they see it or not. Even a team-made website has to feel like it is built by the clarity of a single person. Planning for unity from the start and discussing it at every step in the design process can help us avoid creating the impression that our site is just a collection of materials bound by a sellotape.

Multiple and frequent interventions in other people's work are a way to decrease unity, which is why they should be minimized, but not entirely eliminated. Discussions can be useful for clarifying the direction in which a person has to work, but then he/she needs the freedom to do so. Responsibility robbery decreases engagement, which soon results in suboptimal unity and work quality. In many organizations unity is hard to achieve, because whoever comes next tries to negate the work done by its predecessor. Any act of intervention that doesn't consider the original rationale behind the creator's decisions or does so with insufficient level of understanding will decrease the unity in the future work, maybe even making it obsolete. Explaining the rationale in a written form provides the missing context for everyone who will continue this work later. While they can still change/vary course, they will be much better informed why this is needed. Signs of multiple small patches, done by many different people, can hurt the impression of a product. Web designers probably can't do anything better than evaluate the unity of their websites and improve it.

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